AlcaLu Unveils Its Carrier Cloud Play
Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) today unveiled CloudBand, a mix of software and IT assets that the vendor believes is the first systems tailored specifically to the cloud services enablement needs of telecom operators.
The "solution" comprises the CloudBand Management System -- essentially a combination of multiple Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) elements that enable a communications service provider (CSP) to manage, provision and bill for cloud services -- and the CloudBand Node, the physical IT assets required to perform the computing, storage and networking functions. The two elements aren't inextricably linked (an operator can use existing or alternative IT assets should they choose to do so); it's the Management System that is the real game-changer.
AlcaLu has developed much of the capabilities of CloudBand itself (with the complex traffic engineering algorithms embedded in the solution developed by Bell Labs), but has integrated a package of service assurance and metering/charging/billing capabilities from an unidentified third-party OSS/BSS partner into the Management System and has leaned heavily on its key IT partner HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) for the Node functionality. (See AlcaLu, HP Combine on IT.)
Developed with telcos in mind
AlcaLu's main message for CSPs is that CloudBand has been developed specifically to suit network operators that have distributed, wide-area networks that can be utilized and controlled to provision what it calls "business class" cloud services that offer the high levels of security and reliability that a well-run telco network can offer. It also offers a way for CSPs to enter the cloud services market relatively quickly, making best use of existing assets and building an abstracted layer on top of any existing architecture.
Equally important is the impact such a system can have on a CSP's service delivery strategy. Having a virtualized set of distributed IT nodes means that services and applications such as mobile messaging, VoIP and video -- currently provisioned using multiple individual network elements that are rarely (if ever) utilized to their full potential -- can be hosted in the operator's own cloud architecture. That changes the way a CSP can look at its network planning and asset utilization: In theory, this could lead to the construction of far more efficient communications networks.
AlcaLu has already taken a step down this path with its lightRadio radio access network (RAN) infrastructure development. (See AlcaLu's lightRadio Set for Early 2012 Debut and AlcaLu: We're Killing the Base Station .)
The vendor has built the Management System so that it can manage the relevant wide-area network assets as well as the Node IT elements, which can be distributed towards the edge of an operator's network (rather than centralized in a data center) to reduce latency, increase service delivery quality and reduce the pressure on backhaul capacity. "The operators have the real estate and power resources" to build a distributed cloud architecture, AlcaLu's vice president of cloud enablement, Dor Skuler, tells Light Reading, and that distributed cloud "can be managed as a single entity," he adds.
The Management System also enables policies to be set so that the services and the use and storage of relevant data conform to local/national regulations: For example, there will be certain data that can only be held and distributed within the boundaries of a country, notes the AlcaLu man.
Skuler also stresses that AlcaLu is not trying to replace the likes of VMware and Openstack in the cloud ecosystem -- CloudBand has open APIs that talk to those companies' technologies -- and notes that the federated management capabilities built into the Management System enables CSPs to partner with and draw on the cloud services capabilities of other cloud services players.
"CloudBand enables operators to provision services, set up SLA [service level agreement] parameters, choose the required location [of the Nodes being used] and provide the ability to leverage third-party facilities," boasts Skuler.
CloudBand will be available for pilots and lab tests in early 2012 and be generally available before the middle of next year, says Skuler. So why announce it now? Demand is high for these sorts of capabilities, says the AlcaLu man -- "customers want to know what we are doing about the cloud" -- and CloudBand's development is far enough down the road for the vendor to be confident it can deliver in the near future.
Only part of the carrier cloud story
There seems little doubt that CloudBand's attributes will pique the interest of carriers worldwide. The ability to be part of the cloud services food chain is a must for any network facilities-based CSP that wants to grow, and not lose, its enterprise customer base, while any opportunity to engineer a more efficient network should at least be explored by any operator looking to keep its capex and opex budgets as tight as possible (so, basically, that's every operator…).
In effect, AlcaLu is playing to a captive audience.
What's key to the proposition is the claimed capability to manage the telco and IT assets using a single system. The complexity of such a system will be immense, so CloudBand is likely to need a few versions to plug all the gaps that will only appear once it's put into a production network.
If AlcaLu can pull this off it could set the company one step ahead of its rivals in the carrier cloud sector. But as an experienced cloud services executive noted only last week, this cloud stuff is really difficult to do. (See The Cloud's a Tough Gig.)
But there's another rogue element in this mix that AlcaLu can only directly influence if an operator was to hand over the management of a CloudBand implementation to the vendor as part of a managed services contract (surely something the vendor well be hoping for) -- the human factor. No matter how clever the CloudBand Management System is, any CSP looking to make a successful play in the cloud services market needs day-to-day, at-the-coalface staff that understand not only wide-area communications networks but also IT systems. That's a point Light Reading has been making for a while now as part of our Bridging the Chasm coverage. (See Bridging the Chasm: A Manifesto.)
CloudBand appears to be handing CSPs some of the critical technology elements they'll need to transform themselves into true, new-generation service providers, but it'll need to be matched with a human resources transformation strategy if the full potential of the carrier cloud services market is to be realized.
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading